Sixty years ago, just a few weeks after Marilyn Monroe’s death, Andy Warhol first produced the Marilyn Monroe diptych using the silkscreen method.
At the time, Andy Warhol had no idea that his use of the screen printing process would directly shape the digital art movement of the future. This is exactly what happened later.
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Andy Warhol, American artist, typographer, and cinematographer, was one of the founders of the visual arts movement Pop Art.
Current algorithmically generated NFT-like collections can be traced directly back to Pop Art, which borrows heavily from the philosophy and methods of Pop Art screenprint work.
At the time of its release, the Marilyn Monroe diptych received both criticism and praise for many of the same reasons that current algorithmically generated NFTs have been criticized and praised.
There are several noteworthy similarities:
- use contemporary technology;
- image appropriation;
- interact with popular culture;
- Community ownership/membership.
Does technology make art more valuable?
Screen printing using pre-existing images, aka “copy-pasting” and filling with different colors, Warhol called the “pipeline effect”.
In this way, art is produced in a way that embodies the assembly-line production of pop culture products that formed the backbone of the Pop Art movement. The most obvious example of this assembly line metaphor is Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can.
Warhol was criticized for using images he did not make himself, and for using technology to create works that many believed at the time to be inferior to paintings.
For some, they felt that making a work through screen printing showed less talent than a completely original work such as a painting.
This perception leads to the notion that works of art are less influential and relevant than “purely original” works of art. Many critics also argue that screen-printed works cannot have the same depth of meaning as unique paintings, which are produced using industrial processes. Some argue that industrial processes cannot be “artistic” in any way.
The Marilyn Monroe diptych was released a few weeks after Monroe’s death. The left panel of the work displays multiple highly colored images in which the lines are gradually sharpened and darkened, and the overall color gradually brightens, but overall there are only slight variations from image to image. The right panel is in black and white, and as the image is repeated, the sharpness of the image is greatly reduced, as if Monroe is slowly “disappearing”.
“Marilyn Monroe diptych”
In this diptych, the metaphor of life and death couldn’t be clearer, with the sharp contrast between the left and the right, alluding to the fall of the superstar and the brilliance of his life. The work counters the idea that the meaning of a work of art is somehow tied to the perceptual skills of the technology used to create it.
This lesson from Warhol is important to keep in mind because one of the most common criticisms of algorithmically generated NFT-like collections today is that they believe that such images cannot have intrinsic meaning because they are created with the help of computer algorithms .
This criticism is an extension of the original argument against Warhol. The truth of the matter is that meaning is created by the observer of the art, and these techniques may affect the way the work is interpreted, but it has nothing to do with the depth or presence of meaning.
In short, Andy Warhol used the tools at his disposal to create impactful works of art. The same is true for algorithmic generation of NFT-like. They may be more technologically advanced, but they are still just a tool used by artists to attract and entertain others.
In fact, algorithmically generated NFTs are in many ways just a digitized version of the screen-printing process. The creators use one of their own hands (after doing the relevant manipulations) to make the series run and guide it. This fact should not be forgotten or ignored.
Image appropriation or image appreciation?
Pop Art reflected the rise of the commodification of American existence after the war. Artists create work using images that relate to the zeitgeist of American consumerism, thereby enabling their work to resonate with people while commenting on contemporary culture through their work.
Warhol used images such as Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles to create his art, though he did not have copyright or ownership of these images.
The companies ultimately believed that the visibility of Warhol’s work was good for business, so they didn’t bring legal action against him for copyright infringement. Still, Warhol operates in a newfound legal grey area in terms of what constitutes the public domain.
« Campbell Soup Cans »
If we look at many current NFT projects, we often see images with superhero costumes or pop culture aspects that are not directly owned by the artist himself. Arguably, some images fall under fair use.
These images represent in the public consciousness objects or ideas that arise in life, not just the works that were originally created. Therefore, some of these images may be considered gray areas in terms of copyright and fair use.
That being said, the complex and subtle interplay between art and fair use is far less divisive than it once was.
In today’s world, image appropriation and the reimagining of images are no longer a contentious issue, thanks in part to the remix culture that emerged in the 1980s.
Hip-hop often samples existing content and creates music based on that sample, which is in a way the equivalent of what Warhol did with images.
Over the decades, the idea of repurposing someone else’s work and transforming it into new content has become less controversial than it once was. Still, this is a common criticism cited by those on the opposite side of the NFT collection debate.
For some NFT collectibles, the interplay between copyrighted content and content that has been adopted into the public domain continues to evolve.
Pop Culture and NFTs
Pop culture lives in the minds of the masses. It is not stagnant, but changes and transforms over time.
The NFT Collection seeks to capture the popular imagination, which not only reflects contemporary attitudes, but guides the public in a simple, coherent way. It’s also what makes memes so powerful. Warhol’s work is very much associated with memes.
A meme is a thought, behavior, or style that is transmitted from person to person through imitation or other non-genetic means, usually to convey the particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning that the meme represents. To a certain extent, it is similar to the meaning of the Chinese vocabulary.
Warhol was a master of memes, especially when thinking of Marilyn Monroe’s enduring legacy through the popular imagination. Warhol’s interpretation of her image was inseparable from the ideas of pop culture icon Marilyn Monroe. With current technology, this cultural memetics is more effective than ever.
It goes without saying that NFT collectibles have become part of this process and are highly memetic in their own right. This largely explains why NFTs have been so popular over the past year.
We also live in a world where there are many different definitions of popular culture, where “mainstream” culture often exists, including movies and shows on streaming services, and conversations on social media.
Some aspects of culture are also widely shared, but not quite on the fuzzy cusp of so-called “pop culture.”
For example, take the NFT work Style of Skull on Curate, a multi-chain NFT platform, as an example, this series of NFT works pays homage to skull/skull images around the world.
From the iconic Mexican sugar skulls to the creepy Parisian burial tomb, people have a natural fascination with death-related imagery. This fascination is explored in another series by Curate, “Memento Mori” (literally: Remembering Death).
People’s widespread fascination with death-themed-related images “distilled” into algorithmic NFTs can both illustrate people’s historical fascination with skull elements and re-imagining these existing things.
Another example of pop culture influence on NFT collectibles is the very famous CryptoPunks series of NFTs on OpenSea.
The style of this series of NFTs is reminiscent of the 24×24 pixel art found in early 1990s computer games.
Anyone who played Dungeons & Dragons between 1988 and 1992 will likely feel a wave of nostalgia when they see these NFT images. Stylistically, these pixelated portraits capture a similar feel to characters from games like Dungeons and Dragons.
The end result is that retro art evokes nostalgic memories of the different games you’ve spent hours playing.
So from here we can see that the breakdown of CryptoPunks popularity is simple, that NFT art is rooted in cultural objects and triggers nostalgia.
On top of that, the sheer range of 10,000 different images means that someone will inevitably form a personal connection with at least one of them.
Similarly, Warhol chose the image of Marilyn Monroe as the subject of his diptych. She was a beloved icon, and the audience’s affection for Monroe was crucial to feeling the emotional effect of this diptych exploring the duality of her life and death.
In retrospect, the use of Monroe’s photos was definitely a genius decision, as Marilyn Monroe is still fascinated to this day.
However, there is a fundamental difference between Warhol’s Pop Art work and many popular algorithmically generated NFT-like portfolios. Warhol took existing pop culture items, such as Campbell’s soup cans, and directly reused them to convey a sense of familiarity.
Algorithmically generated NFTs are generally not as compelling as Warhol’s work. Conversely, cultural references may occasionally be found in specific images, but it is these images themselves that are breaking into the public consciousness.
Take the BAYC (Boring Ape Yacht Club) series for example. All controversies aside, they have indeed attracted worldwide attention.
BAYC effectively creates a pop culture icon, although they may or may not borrow certain elements from elsewhere.
ownership as attribution
Finally, I’ll explore the last point that algorithmically generated NFTs are relevant to Warhol and Pop Art, and that is what it means to own a work or print.
Of course, this is more of a general rule for any culture that can have it, and the same is true for pop art and any other form of art.
The act of owning a cultural artifact, be it an mp3, painting, or book, can form meaning and identity. A person’s announcement or display of a particular work of art in their possession is a statement of one’s interests, opinions, and worldview. This mechanism is exactly the same in algorithmically generating NFT-like.
A person may buy a work just to make money, but a person may also buy a work purely because it fits their interests, the way they see the world, or they like to maintain a little nostalgia.
It can now be said that the algorithmic generation of NFTs is completely in line with the classics of contemporary art history. While these NFTs may be criticized from time to time, they are as compelling and important as any other art movement before them. When thinking about and talking about algorithmically generating a series of NFTs, it is very helpful to explore them through the lens of the pop art and screen printing process.
So next time you buy an NFT, think back to Warhol’s case, maybe you can find the NFT work that really “belongs” to you.
Posted by:CoinYuppie，Reprinted with attribution to:https://coinyuppie.com/is-it-really-pointless-for-an-algorithm-to-generate-nft-like/
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